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Dakota Johnson in Cooper Raiff’s ‘Cha Cha Real Smooth’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

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Dakota Johnson in Cooper Raiff’s ‘Cha Cha Real Smooth’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

Building on the strengths of his justly celebrated debut, maintaining its distinctive point-of-view while broadening the scope of its sympathy, Cooper Raiff‘s Cha Cha Real Smooth is a more mainstream film than 2020’s Shithouse without feeling the least bit generic. (As with the first film, titles aren’t Raiff’s strong suit.) Dakota Johnson costars with the director as a single mom charmed by the young man’s ability to connect with her autistic child. The attraction quickly goes much deeper than that, creating a potential love story whose complications feel as distilled-from-life as the previous film’s heartbreak and homesickness.

Unlike the first film, this one offers several characters who are sufficiently well drawn we can imagine versions of the story in which each is the protagonist: Leslie Mann, as a mother pained by her son’s tendency to fall headlong in love regardless of his chances; Evan Assante as David, the kid brother who looks up to Raiff’s college grad even when he’s stuck sleeping on a cot in the boy’s bedroom; and Lola (the effortlessly winning newcomer Vanessa Burghardt), the bullied but self-assured daughter the story revolves around. But especially Johnson’s Domino, a character the film accepts as being more complex than our hero, with untidy motivations that needn’t necessarily be explained to his satisfaction.

Cha Cha Real Smooth

The Bottom Line

A confident step in a burgeoning career.

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Venue: Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Dramatic Competition)

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Cooper Raiff, Vanessa Burghardt, Evan Assante, Brad Garrett, Leslie Mann, Raúl Castillo, Odeya Rush

Director-Screenwriter: Cooper Raiff


1 hour 47 minutes

Raiff’s Andrew has just finished college without much of a plan. He hopes he can earn enough money to follow his girlfriend to Barcelona, but working at a hot dog stand in the mall makes that a long shot. An unlikely side hustle materializes when, chaperoning David at a low-energy bat mitzvah party, he winds up convincing the whole room to get on the dance floor and have fun. By the end of the night, Jewish moms are lining up to hire him as a good-times catalyst at their own events.

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None of that would’ve been likely had he not spotted two outcasts at the start of the night. Beautiful but unhappy-looking, Domino walked into the room accompanied by mean gossip (somebody whispers she’s the “crazy mom” who screwed somebody else’s husband) and a daughter intent on not mingling. Wearing big headphones and focused on a giant cube puzzle, Lola was definitely not going to be dancing tonight. Until Andrew convinced her to.

If that doesn’t immediately make Andrew Domino’s Prince Charming, a minor emergency at another party demonstrates the depth of his compassion and his ability to improvise. By the end of this evening, Lola has decided Andrew should be her babysitter (she can tell he wouldn’t treat her like a baby), and the two adults have shared enough of themselves that further intimacy seems inevitable. A bittersweet prologue has shown how easily Andrew imagines love connections that don’t exist; but there’s nothing imaginary about the chemistry between these two.

Also not imaginary: Domino’s fiancé Joseph (Raúl Castillo), currently on a work trip to Chicago. But that doesn’t stop the two from spending time together, or keep Andrew from babysitting when Joseph’s back in town. When the men finally meet, Cha Cha is cagey about whether Joseph’s a jerk to be bested, a good match for Domino or something else. Of major characters, only Andrew’s stepfather is viewed in a harsher light. (It’s no coincidence when a film by a young, sensitive man offers the least empathy to older guys unafflicted by self-doubt. But eventually, Cha Cha sees these two as humans as well.)

Andrew’s no saint: When feeling spurned or toyed with by Domino, he’s quick to try hooking up with the hot classmate (Odeya Rush) he longed for in high school. He also hasn’t mastered the art of alcohol consumption: Some drunken and/or overemotional moments allow Raiff to show he has several gears between mild frustration and the full-blown romantic despair of Shithouse. But then, Andrew has much more emotional intelligence than that film’s Alex. As this story develops, he’s going to need it.

If Cha Cha should connect with a large enough number of movielovers to make Raiff an in-demand talent, it’s likely he’ll eventually face some backlash as well. The world can be cruel to nice guys, especially boyishly handsome ones whose talent for connection relies on guilelessness and conspicuous vulnerability. The speed with which he put together such an assured second film suggests Raiff isn’t quite as soft off-screen as on; and the differences between this performance and the last suggest he’ll have some range as an actor as well. Here’s hoping he gets the chance to prove that soon.

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

Hitting the three-quarter-century mark usually means a retirement home, a nursing facility, or if you’re lucky to be blessed with relatively good health and savings to match, living in a gated community in Arizona or Florida.

For Sylvester Stallone, however, it means something else entirely: starring in the first superhero-centered film of his decades-long career in the much-delayed Samaritan. Unfortunately for Stallone and the audience on the other side of the screen, the derivative, turgid, forgettable results won’t get mentioned in a career retrospective, let alone among the ever-expanding list of must-see entries in a genre already well past its peak.

For Stallone, however, it’s better late than never when it involves the superhero genre. Maybe in getting a taste of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) with his walk-on role in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel several years ago, Stallone thought anything Marvel can do, I can do even better (or just as good in the nebulous definition of the word).

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The property Stallone and his team found for him, Samaritan, a little-known graphic novel released by a small, almost negligible, publisher, certainly takes advantage of Stallone’s brute-force physicality and his often underrated talent for near-monosyllabic brooding (e.g., the Rambo series), but too often gives him to little do or say as the lone super-powered survivor, the so-called “Samaritan” of the title, of a lifelong rivalry with his brother, “Nemesis.” Two brothers entered a fire-ravaged building and while both were presumed dead, one brother did survive (Stallone’s Joe Smith, a garbageman by day, an appliance repairman by night).

In the Granite City of screenwriter Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room, Season of the Witch), the United States, and presumably the rest of the world, teeters on economic and political collapse, with a recession spiraling into a depression, steady gigs difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, and the city’s neighborhoods rocked by crime and violence. No one’s safe, not even 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walker), Joe’s neighbor.

When he’s not dodging bullies connected to a gang, he’s falling under the undue influence of Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), a low-rent gang leader with an outsized ego and the conviction that he and only he can take on Nemesis’s mantle and along with that mantle, a hammer “forged in hate,” to orchestrate a Bane-like plan to plunge the city into chaos and become a wealthy power-broker in the process.

Schut’s woefully underwritten script takes a clumsy, haphazard approach to world-building, relying on a two-minute animated sequence to open Samaritan while a naive, worshipful Sam narrates Samaritan and Nemesis’s supposedly tragic, Cain and Abel-inspired backstory. Schut and director Julius Avery (Overlord) clumsily attempt to contrast Sam’s childish belief in messiah-like, superheroic saviors stepping in to save humanity from itself and its own worst excesses, but following that path leads to authoritarianism and fascism (ideas better, more thoroughly explored in Watchmen and The Boys).

While Sam continues to think otherwise, Stallone’s superhero, 25 years past his last, fatal encounter with his presumably deceased brother, obviously believes superheroes are the problem and not the solution (a somewhat reasonable position), but as Samaritan tracks Joe and Sam’s friendship, Sam giving Joe the son he never had, Joe giving Sam the father he lost to street violence well before the film’s opening scene, it gets closer and closer to embracing, if not outright endorsing Sam’s power fantasies, right through a literally and figuratively explosive ending. Might, as always, wins regardless of how righteous or justified the underlying action.

It’s what superhero audiences want, apparently, and what Samaritan uncritically delivers via a woefully under-rendered finale involving not just unconvincing CGI fire effects, but a videogame cut-scene quality Stallone in a late-film flashback sequence that’s meant to be subversively revelatory, but will instead lead to unintentional laughter for anyone who’s managed to sit the entirety of Samaritan’s one-hour and 40-minute running time.

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Samaritan is now streaming worldwide on Prime Video.

Samaritan

Cast
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton
  • Pilou Asbæk

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Matt Shakman Is In Talks To Direct ‘Fantastic Four’

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According to a new report, Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct the upcoming MCU project, Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios has been very hush-hush regarding Fantastic Four to the point where no official announcements have been made other than the film’s release date. No casting news or literally anything other than rumors has been released regarding the project. We know that Fantastic Four is slated for release on November 8th, 2024, and will be a part of Marvel’s Phase 6. There are also rumors that the cast of the new Fantastic Four will be announced at the D23 Expo on September 9th.

Fantastic Four is still over two years from release, and we assume we will hear more news about the project in the coming months. However, the idea of the Fantastic Four has already been introduced into the MCU. John Krasinski played Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The cameo was a huge deal for fans who have been waiting a long time for the Fantastic Four to enter the MCU. When Disney acquired Twenty Century Fox in 2019 we assumed that the Fox Marvel characters would eventually make their way into the MCU. It’s been 3 years and we already have had an X-Men and Fantastic Four cameo – even if they were from another universe.

Deadline is reporting that Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct Fantastic Four. Shakman served as the director for Wandavision and has had an extensive career. He directed two episodes of Game of Thrones and an episode of The Boys, and he had a long stint on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There is nothing official yet, but Deadline’s sources say that Shakman is currently in talks for the job and things are headed in the right direction.

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To be honest, I was a bit more excited when Jon Watts was set to direct. I’m sure Shakman is a good director, but Watts proved he could handle a tentpole superhero film with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Wandavision was good, but Watts’ style would have been perfect for Fantastic Four. The film is probably one of the most anticipated films in Marvel’s upcoming slate films and they need to find the best person they can to direct. Is that Matt Shakman? It could be, but whoever takes the job must realize that Marvel has a lot riding on this movie. The other Fantastic Four films were awful and fans deserve better. Hopefully, Marvel knocks it out of the park as they usually do. You can see for yourself when Fantastic Four hits theaters on November 8th, 2024.

Film Synopsis: One of Marvel’s most iconic families makes it to the big screen: the Fantastic Four.

Source: Deadline

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Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase Star in ‘Zombie Town’ Mystery Teen Romancer (Exclusive)

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Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase have entered Zombie Town, a mystery teen romancer based on author R.L. Stine’s book of the same name.

The indie, now shooting in Ontario, also stars Henry Czerny and co-teen leads Marlon Kazadi and Madi Monroe. The ensemble cast includes Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch of the Canadian comedy show Kids in the Hall.

Canadian animator Peter Lepeniotis will direct Zombie Town. Stine’s kid’s book sees a quiet town upended when 12-year-old Mike and his friend, Karen, see a horror movie called Zombie Town and unexpectedly see the title characters leap off the screen and chase them through the theater.

Zombie Town will premiere in U.S. theaters before streaming on Hulu and then ABC Australia in 2023.

“We are delighted to bring the pages of R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town to the screen and equally thrilled to be working with such an exceptional cast and crew on this production. A three-time Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award winner with book sales of over $500 million, R.L. Stine has a phenomenal track record of crafting stories that engage and entertain audiences,” John Gillespie, Trimuse Entertainment founder and executive producer, said in a statement.

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Executive producers are Trimuse Entertainment, Toonz Media Group, Lookout Entertainment, Viva Pictures and Sons of Anarchy actor Kim Coates.  

Paco Alvarez and Mark Holdom of Trimuse negotiated the deal to acquire the rights to Stine’s Zombie Town book.

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